(AP/Jim Cole)

The U.S. has a shamefully high infant mortality rate. Where's the pro-life GOP's outrage?

Ted Cruz is stumping on "family values" while ignoring the deaths of mothers and infants in the United States


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Katie McDonough
September 26, 2014 11:46PM (UTC)

On Friday, Ted Cruz kicked off the Value Voters Summit by warning those in attendance about the Obama administration's apparent obsession with abortion. According to Cruz, “Right now, the federal government is suing the Little Sisters of the Poor to try to force Catholic nuns to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.” (As my colleague Luke Brinker pointed out, Cruz kind of has the whole who's suing whom thing backwards. And -- all together now/once more with feeling -- birth control is not the same thing as medication abortion.) But Cruz isn't the only one who will be trotting out his "pro-life" bona fides at the conference this weekend. There are panels scheduled to address the 2014 election's "pro-life battleground," as well as breakout sessions dedicated to bringing Libertarians and young women on board with the "pro-family/pro-life movement." It's the Value Voters Summit, after all. Family values rule the weekend.

Now we're all grownups here, so we don't have to pretend to be shocked that the GOP is wildly inconsistent in its application of supposedly pro-family principles. Republicans love babies, but they don't love affordable healthcare or food assistance programs or living wages for the parents of those babies. And the GOP expresses its apparent concern for women's health by shuttering clinics and stripping them of basic access to reproductive healthcare like contraception and abortion, while also fighting hard to reverse even the modest gains made through implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

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So given what we know, it's not at all surprising that these same politicians and conservative movement leaders have been noticeably silent about a new report out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing that the infant and maternal mortality rates in the United States are shamefully high, and that more babies in the United States are dying before their first birthday than in most of Europe and other similarly wealthy nations. It's not surprising that the GOP is largely silent, but it's still completely terrible.

"I think we’ve known for a long time that the U.S. has a higher preterm birth rate, but this higher infant mortality rate for full-term, big babies who should have really good survival prospects is not what we expected,” Marian MacDorman, the lead author of the report and a senior statistician and researcher with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, told MedicineNet.com.

As Sam P. K. Collins at ThinkProgress noted, these numbers remain high despite an advanced healthcare system and a decades-long spending increase on maternal healthcare. While it's true that our healthcare system is advanced, the disparities within that system are life-threatening. And our maternal and infant mortality rates map pretty neatly along those disparities.

"The U.S. lags behind other developed countries because there remain significant gaps in access to and utilization of prenatal and preconception care," Dr. Deborah Campbell, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, told MedicineNet.com. "There is a well-delineated history of racial and ethnic disparities in maternal and infant outcomes in the U.S., with black women and their infants being at greatest risk and having the highest rates of poor outcomes," she said.

Earlier this year, the United Nations called on the United States to address the racial disparities in our healthcare system for exactly this reason. “The U.S. has more health resources than any other country, yet women of color are dying from preventable causes and failing to get the reproductive health care they need," said Katrina Anderson, senior human rights counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "No woman in the U.S. should endure such poor care because of her immigration status or race."

The GOP is currently doing a confusing little dance to appeal to voters on the issue of women's health. There's big talk in Texas about making clinics "safer" by shutting them down. There are Republicans pretending to support contraception by backing a weak proposal to make expensive oral contraceptives available over the counter. These are cynical efforts to convince women that they support reproductive rights despite all evidence to the contrary. And they are largely failing effort because, you know, women have brains. But do you know what would make sense and possibly win the affection of at least a few women voters, to say nothing of being ideologically consistent with its stated pro-life platform? If the GOP would take up the mantle of making the infant mortality numbers in the United States unacceptable. They could keep all of their abortion fire and brimstone talk, but would actually give their pro-family platform a little substance by pushing for policies to help ensure that babies in this country survive well beyond their first birthday. But making that happen would require the GOP to reverse course on issues ranging from the Affordable Care Act to the minimum wage to robust public education systems. Maybe that's why Ted Cruz doesn't mention it.

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Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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